Towering scaffolding around the state Capitol will be the first indication that the biggest repair, refurbishment and remodel in the 96-year history of the landmark building is under way.
Many details of the project are yet to be worked out, but some facts are clear.
Overall funding will be $120 million under a bond measure that was given final approval Friday by the Oklahoma Legislature. The governor is expected to sign the measure.
“This is Step One in a long process to prepare our Capitol for another hundred years of state service,” said John Estus, spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. “It’s historic and long overdue, and now we can finally begin the good, difficult, necessary work to responsibly repair this building.”
This funding should be enough to do the major work that is needed on the crumbling exterior, leaky plumbing and the outdated electrical system, Capitol architect Duane Mass said. An earlier proposal had called for a $160 million bond measure.
“We can get very, very close,” Mass said. “Of course we’ll have to prioritize, but we should be able to make great strides. And I do firmly believe we will be able to get the major health, safety and welfare issues solved, which of course is of great concern.”
Exterior work could begin as soon as late this summer or early fall and interior work should begin next year, Estus said. Contractors will be selected through a public bidding process. An oversight committee will be in charge of approving the project plan.
“The outside can be started at almost any time,” Mass said. “The outside could literally be started the day someone said ‘Go.’”
Work on the inside of the building, on the other hand, will have to wait for an extensive planning process that will be overseen by the committee and will include input from elected officials, agencies and others.
“The first thing that many people will see when the outside is undertaken is restricted access around the building of course and then a great deal of scaffolding that will continually move,” Mass said. “There will be lifts coming up and down, there will be a great deal of activity around the outside.”
The scaffolding will be up longer than a year. It remains to be determined whether the exterior work will be done section by section to increase public access to the building, or whether the entire exterior would be worked on at once to speed things along. The entire project, inside and outside, could take up to four years.
Workers will replace deteriorated limestone blocks and create openings that will allow them to examine the walls with tiny cameras on flexible tubing to determine hidden problems.
Chunks of limestone have been falling off the exterior walls of the Capitol because water has infiltrated through mortar, allowing cast iron anchor pins to swell. The project also will replace the mortar to limit the water problems. The goal will be to make the exterior as watertight as possible. When new blocks of limestone will be needed, workers will try to match it as closely as they can with the same Indiana blue limestone used in the original construction.
“We may have to stain some of it to better match until God and time does its thing to sort of blend everything together,” Mass said.
Old pipes in the basement and elsewhere have deteriorated to the point that leaks and sewage smells in the building have become common. Many will have to be replaced with modern materials that would hold up better over time.
Another concern is old cloth-covered electrical wires that could pose a fire threat if there were an electrical overload. Those will be replaced with newer electrical wires, which typically are shielded in metallic tubes.
“We need to give the building the opportunity for a good reset, service for the next 40 to 50 years,” Mass said. “We want to make the building relate as best as we can to modern building code for the safety of the occupants.”